Surrounded by friends and family, former UConn safety Obi Melifonwu watched the picks fly in the second round of the NFL draft on Friday night.
Certainly there were a few times when it came for a team that had shown significant interest in the leading tackler on the 2016 UConn squad to make a pick, there were some anxious moments before the Oakland Raiders ended the suspense by selecting Melifonwu 56th overall.
“I definitely thought it was going to play out a little differently but I am a strong believer in faith and everything happens for a reason,” said Melifonwu, who was thought to have a chance to join Donald Brown and Byron Jones as the only UConn products taken in the first round of the NFL draft. “At the end of the day knew that if I stayed patient, I would get picked up by the right team.”
When the call finally came, it was a moment to end all moments for Melifonwu.
“My phone was buzzing before that because of Twitter notifications and text messages so when I finally got the call, it was exciting,” Melifonwu said. My family was ecstatic, it was honestly just a great moment. It was one of the best moments of my life. They have been here with me through thick and thin and I am was glad it was a moment that I got to share with them.”
Melifonwu met with representatives with the Raiders at the Senior Bowl and again at the NFL Scouting Combine but there hasn’t been much interaction since the combine.
He wasn’t even sure if Oakland was looking at him as a cornerback or safety although the fact that the team’s first-round pick was Ohio State cornerback Gareon Conley, it would appear likely that he will remain a safety.
Melifonwu, a 6-foot-4, 224-pound native of Grafton, Mass, is upholding the tradition of the UConn program developing NFL-caliber defensive backs. Melifonwu is the 22nd Husky taken in the NFL draft since 2008 and seven of those are defensive backs. That is tied for the 13th highest total through the end of the second round. LSU leads the list with 16 picks followed by Alabama and Ohio State with 13 defensive backs selections.
Melifonwu was a four-year starting safety at UConn who finished with 351 tackles and seven interceptions. In eight games against ranked opponents, he had 61 tackles and three interceptions. He continued to help his stock after his time at UConn came to an end. He had an impressive week of practice at the Senior Bowl where he also saw some action at cornerback. Then he went to the NFL Scouting Combine and posted the best marks with a 44-inch vertical leap and broad jump of 11-9. His time of 4.4 in the 40-yard dash was among the top 10 at the combine. His 60-yard shuttle time of 10.91 at UConn’s pro day would have been the second best mark had he done it at the NFL Scouting Combine.
“Now we are getting into the freak zone,” NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said after Melifonwu’s selection was announced by Raiders Hall of Fame defensive back Willie Brown. “Some teams are looking at him at corner, some at safety, some at linebacker. He is a genetic freak. I thought his tape was really solid. He has first day talent all day long. I thought the tape was good. If he ever grows into that body and they can use him as a matchup (player), tight ends one week, wideouts the next, he can be some kind of player in this league.”